Home away from home

There is something about the Alberta Children’s Hospital that makes it feel like a home away from home.

Kiera Neal at 15 months old being checked in by nurse Jenny for her amputation surgery in September 2007 at the Alberta Children's Hospital.

Editor’s note: This is the first instalment of a two-part series by guest writer Kate Gibbs on the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary and how it helps local children and youth who live in the Columbia Valley.

There is something about the Alberta Children’s Hospital that makes it feel like a home away from home for every child who walks through its doors. It may be the bright colours on the walls or the  fact that it was designed by kids just like them that makes each kid enter the building  with a smile on their face.

Whatever it is, it makes all the fears go away for each child entering the hospital for procedures. It does this for Kiera Neal and her family.

At age one, Kiera was diagnosed with Rhabdomyoscarcoma, a cancerous tumour of the muscles that are attached to the bones. Now, at the age of six, Kiera visits the Children’s Hospital quite frequently, and has been through almost every department, from oncology to vision.

She has had great experiences with each of the doctors she’s met. Kiera’s mom, Daphne Neal, has nothing but good things to say about the hospital and the staff who work there.

“In each area that Kiera has been through, the doctors are completely there for the kids,” Daphne said. “They give them the time they need to become comfortable prior to a test or procedure.”

This special hospital puts Kiera and her family at ease each time they go. There were times where Kiera and her older brother Ryan would spend 12 to 15 hours there and still they felt alright about the situation. The two siblings spent time in a centre called Child Life — a play centre within the hospital that gives sick children and their siblings who accompany them activities that make them happy. There were so many things to do there to keep them busy.

“They try to make things as normal as possible for the families,” Daphne said.

There were times where Kiera had so much fun at the hospital, playing and making new friends, that she didn’t want to leave.  “It became like a home away from home,” said her mother. “It didn’t seem like a bad place. We also have some great friends there, from doctors to nurses that feel very much like family because we’ve spent so much time with them. I can’t say one negative thing about any one of the staff there. They were all tremendous in every way.”

Not only does the family have good things to say about the Alberta Children’s Hospital, but also about the nearby Ronald McDonald House as well. The Neals stayed there for six weeks while Kiera was going through treatment.

It had just opened six weeks prior to them being at Children’s. When asked about the family’s stay at the Ronald McDonald house, Daphne said: “It was a great place to land and be close to the hospital when we needed it the most. I am a huge supporter of the Ronald McDonald House for sure.”

Kiera’s experience and that of her family’s at the Alberta Children’s Hospital was so positive in fact that it made it hard for them to say goodbye.

“We were in Calgary one time for something else (and) we drove by the children’s hospital and Kiera thought we were going there again,” said Daphne. “She was sad we weren’t.”

Alberta’s Children’s Hospital is a special place for Kiera and her family as it is for every family that goes there. Kiera’s story is an inspiring one and gives good reason for the Columbia Valley to help and support the hospital that makes kids in this valley happier and healthier.

David Thompson Secondary School student Kate Gibbs is a work experience student writing for The Valley Echo. Check back next week for part two of this story.

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